Chelsea suspends 4 from games amid Sterling investigation

LONDON (AP) — Chelsea suspended four people from attending the team’s matches amid a police investigation into whether Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling was racially abused at Stamford Bridge.

Police are reviewing footage that circulated widely online during Chelsea’s 2-0 win over City in the English Premier League on Saturday, showing a man appearing to aggressively hurl abuse at Sterling as the player retrieved the ball on the byline. Others near the man also appeared to be goading the England international.

Chelsea said the club was fully supporting the police investigation and will pass on any information it gathers.

“Chelsea finds all forms of discriminatory behavior abhorrent,” the London club said in a statement on Monday, “and if there is evidence of ticket-holders taking part in any racist behavior, the club will issue severe sanctions, including bans. We will also fully support any criminal prosecutions.”

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Sterling posted a message on Instagram on Sunday, touching only briefly on the incident during Saturday’s game and instead focusing on the portrayal of black footballers in British newspapers which he believes helps to “fuel racism.”

“Regarding what was said at the Chelsea game,” Sterling wrote, “as you can see by my reaction I just had to laugh because I don’t expect no better.”

The incident has provoked an outcry in England, coming a week after a banana skin was thrown by fans at Arsenal striker Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang as he celebrated scoring against Tottenham in a Premier League match.

“I am obviously not surprised that things like this still happen,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said on Monday, when asked about the abuse of Sterling, “but I like the fact that we put the finger on it and say, ‘You cannot say what you want, it is not possible.’

“As long as people are silly enough to do this, they need to be punished for it. That is how it is. I am sure 95 percent of people or more are not like this so we should try to find the right amount of attention for these people. Yes, punish them but do not talk too much about them because they do not deserve that we talk about them.”

The 24-year-old Sterling has had an uneasy relationship with the media, with critical coverage before the World Cup in Russia of his decision to get a tattoo of an assault rifle on his right leg. He said the leg is the only he will ever shoot because his father was shot and killed when he was aged two.

English soccer’s players’ union said Sterling was “often singled out and treated more harshly than his colleagues.”

“Raheem has made a stand by speaking out and we stand shoulder to shoulder with him against the discrimination of which he speaks,” said Simone Pound, head of equality and diversity at the Professional Footballers’ Association.

“We all have a part to play in tackling racism and discrimination and certain sectors of the media must be held to account.”

Pound said the PFA was “in no doubt that the negative narrative influences public opinion and emboldens racist rhetoric.”

The Football Association has said it will work with the clubs and other authorities regarding the incident at Stamford Bridge involving Sterling.

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